There’s absolutely nothing better, when you’re in a certain contemplative mood, than treating your senses to high-quality homegrown podcasts in the dark. What else can you do when your bedroom is ninety degrees? Beat the heat and insomnia with some bedtime tea, no lights, and a sonorous voice whispering creepy nothings just for you.

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These are listed in no particular order, because the last thing I want is for people to underestimate the power of a show like Dapper Sam’s Foxy Fun Time*.

11. Slate’s The Gist

Maybe it won’t lull you to sleep, but Mike Pesca’s easy friendliness is infectious. You’ll learn something literally every single time you tune in, and you can listen for free on Soundcloud. Topics include anything and everything you’ll want to be interested in. Even better? Episodes are generally quick, and so good that they feel like they should last longer. One To Listen To: Where to Find the Best Stories

10. Love + Radio

This captivating podcast features a mixture of fact and fiction, in the form of interviews and stories centered on a theme. You know, themes like guns, ghosts, secrets, anger, the stuff DRAMA IS MADE OF. Episodes range from twenty to fifty-odd minutes, and the delectable language and  delivery make them fly by. Try Out: Hostile Planet. You’re welcome.

9. Welcome To Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a gloriously weird podcast, done as the community radio show of fictional town Night Vale. You know, the friendly desert town where “the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” It’s my go-to when I have insomnia, and what starts out as mildly interesting quirkiness quickly turns into white-knuckled investment in the characters’ lives. All wrapped up in Cecil’s velvety voice. Listen To: Summer Reading Program. Because there really is no better phrase in the English language than “catch the flesh-eating reading bacterium.”

8. The Horror!

Treat your ears to old horror radio stories. Not old-style, real old style. We’re talking stories that originally aired in the thirties, fifties, sixties. Good stuff. Feel the crackle of the radio. Let it seep into you. Let it become youTry It Out: Two From the Black Mass

7. Fresh Air

Now, hear me out: the programs are full of interesting bits, and it’s NPR so naturally it’ll be soothing. What are you waiting for? Go check it out.

6. The Coffee Break Language Learning Series

Transport yourself back to the muggy, stuffy classrooms of Spanish I (or whatever you took in high school) in quick twenty-minute segments. They’re super-basic and kind of goofy, but honestly, that’s part of the charm. If you’re completely unfamiliar with a language and want to ease yourself in, this is a fun way to do it. It was funny for me personally to listen to the first Spanish episode, just because they had Scottish accents and were speaking with a mainland Spain accent instead of the ones I’m used to here in California. Find It on iTunes. There are a billion of different languages featured, so you’ll find them easily.

5. The Nerdist

I’m kind of a cult member after reading the book (and yes, treating it like a bible), but the Nerdist podcast really does dish up constant infotainment. You know, in interview form. Interview infotainment (new podcast genre?). Chris Hardwick’s engaging and every one of his guests are fascinating. Listen To: Misha Collins (always listen to Misha Collins). Okay, so I’m biased. If you’re not a fan (Misha who?), check out Sir Ian McKellen.

4. Beautiful Places in HD

Technically it’s a video series, although it’s in the “podcast” section of iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s worth your time; each episode is generally under six minutes and each one actually is beautiful. Plus you get the cheesy acoustic guitar background music that sounds like it was ripped straight from your local public access channel. Finally, the narration is so calm that the guy could be on drugs. You need that kind of relaxation in your life.

3. The Drabblecast

This weekly audio fiction show brings “strange stories by strange authors to strange listeners, such as yourself.” Episodes go anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour and a half; each one showcases quality storytelling with quality narration and sound production. Each episode, along with the main story, also includes a drabble (100 words) and a twabble (100 characters). Have A Taste: I really like their recent All Of Our Past Places by Kat Howard.

2. 99% Invisible

Billing itself as “a tiny radio show about design,” this podcast is way too humble. Episodes are around a half hour or shorter, always fascinating, and yes, the narration’s always soothing. I know I’ve said that a lot during this listicle, but I love me some smooth, sonorous voices. Listen To: Sounds Of The Artificial World

1. Here Be Monsters

From premise to production this podcast is stellar. This show explores fear in a different way in each episode, with sound production that always fits the narration perfectly. Episodes are around thirty minutes or less and seem to fly by every time. Try It Out: The much-loved “The Grandmother And The Vine Of The Dead” is popular for a reason, and the trippy episode is perfect for late-night listening.

Honorable Mentions: 

Woolful: A Podcast For Fiber Folk

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*Not a real show, unfortunately. Yet.

It’s fifth grade and I have first pick for our United States of America projects. I can select any state I want: California, my fascinating home state (biased, yes), Washington, New York … so I choose Colorado. As a horsey kid with a vague notion of what Not California States were like, I thought Colorado would be the Old West. Horses. Horses everywhere. Horses run the banks. They play in the pro football league. You get the idea.

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Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was a fun state to, you know, go camping in; but to do a report on? Yeah, not so much. For years afterward I harbored a deathly grudge toward Colorado, for not being the horsey paradise I dreamed of.

My senior year of high school was déjà vu all over again. For my ten-page research paper, as a companion to my Senior Project—writing a novella about a teenage shapeshifter on the run—I decide to pick the perfect subject. I will fill ten pages with Bisexual Representation in Literature. A subject chock-full of examples in which, well, bisexuals are not represented in literature. I knew bisexual erasure was a thing but somehow thought that I could still easily talk about its place in the literary canon. Newsflash: it’s pretty freaking difficult. After you hit on Rubyfruit Jungle and The Color Purple the well starts running dry, and you have to explain to people what gay subtext is.

My whole life has been one long string of exhausting school projects in which I bite off way more than I’m ready to chew. Now, as a legal kidult embarking on a life of frustrating creative work (I know, it’s a redundancy), I am so glad that I always worked that way. The projects that I start in an obsessive, excited frenzy, the ones that quickly seem impossible and have me on the verge of tears, are almost always the ones people end up impressed by. I’m not saying people were exactly wowed by my Colorado paper, but I did get that rarest of all rare things, A Compliment From A Teacher, when they graded my senior paper. Granted, they didn’t write it down with my graded paper, because why make a stressed-out senior in high school’s heart burst with joy? No, I heard it through the grapevine, from my English teacher who knew the person who had graded my paper. Somehow that made it more meaningful.

Hearing that compliment secondhand, casually, and from a trusted source, made the remark that much more substantial and real. The kind of thing an impressed colleague says over lunch in the break room, not something they scribble in a flurry of papers on a Saturday night. These kinds of reactions are what I’ve always hungered for, and I think what most people really want: not accolades, but honest human opinions.

Those are now a dime a dozen in the internet age, but remain a valuable part of the creative process. People who make stuff are notoriously bad at judging their own work, so now you can bounce it off of millions of people on the far-flung corners of the planet. It’s key when you’re someone who works like this, someone who picks the hardest project possible and somehow pulls it off by the seat of your pants the morning it’s due. So, all of us.

People respond to this—they see the crackpot idea, the sweat, the finished product, and they cock their heads in confusion before nodding in recognition.

I gravitate towards these projects because they have a magnetic emotional pull, and I’ve come to rely on this as the only phenomenon to get me to produce halfway-decent work. I stick my metaphorical hand into that sticky mass of gum and found objects that is my brain, and try to pull out something that means a lot. To take a dumb metaphor too far, I have to invent a one-handed saw out of rubber bands and paper clips in order to extract my hand and object from the mess. That is the rock, that is the machine, my number-one tool.

Yeah, your hand is covered in gum, but you’ve got yourself a cool doohickey as well as a new DIY saw machine. That’s the process. So you wash your hands, see something else in the gummy mass, and stick your hand in again.

Little-known secret: I’m offended when people advertise badly at me. Ads often forgo common sense to appeal to baser emotions, but when even my baser emotions are left bored, I get kind of pissed off. I’m here to get sold on you, dammit, and you’re paid vague salary per year to sell to me. You went through some amount years of schooling to do this. Why are you sucking so badly? Come on, people. Advertise at me. Advertise good.

 

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Our lizard brains are sold by stories. The best commercials are little thirty-second slices of life that show us A Whole New World and urge us to buy Coca-Cola (this is not a sponsered post). Commercials now show us those slices of brilliance, but seem stuck on the same “THIS IS WHY YOU BUY PRODUCT” language of the past. Hugh MacLoed referred to this as “dinosaur-speak” in his book Evil Plans (also the working title of my memoir).

Ad-speak evolves just as quickly as everything else on this planet. Where some decades ago advertisements gave you the straight-talk in tiny letters about how great their product is, under artistic illustrations of coked-out white people, ads now do the same thing BUT AT OBSCENE VOLUMES. I would think, ads being expensive and crucial and all, that the big people in charge would think, “We should advertise in a way that’s separate from the pack, but still effective.” You know, in a manner that people like. Because when people like you, they buy from you.

When an ad is silent, with plain text on the screen, I stop and pay attention. When an ad moves me in a mere fifteen seconds of footage, I listen. When the good people of Everywhere, Inc. decide to shout fifty decibels louder than the show I’m watching, I press Mute. And the solution, dear folks of Big Company Inc., is not to keep me from muting you. Hell, I will turn my computer off for three minutes to keep Spotify from yelling at me.

Film and TV trailers have convinced me that commercials are a precious resource, a give-and-take that has so much promise. Good trailers don’t just get you to look up the movie on IMDB; they are amazing on their own, and are sometimes better than the movie itself. Yeah, Lucy, I’m looking at you, you hard-drive-downloading sunnuvabitch (spoiler). And now, in the age of Five Second Cinema and Vine and Twitter and three-second attention spans, there’s no excuse to use these brief moments to the best of your ability. Hello, it’s the internet. We’ve now more options than any other time in history, and there’s no reason we have to pay attention to your lizardscreaming.

Almost anything co-opted by companies to sell something just comes off as one-sided and out-of-touch. Even most brand social media accounts, ostensibly run by hip young people who need the job, often spout the worst kind of dad-speak and ineffectively co-opt yesterday’s memes. That’s why brands interacting with the online posts of us peasants is at once so hilarious and titillating: we lowly average people aren’t used to being spoken to this way by companies. Listened to. Heard out.

Imagine this scenario: you watch your favorite TV show On Demand (or some other cable provider, I don’t judge) and discover it won’t let you fast-forward. Common occurrence. Naturally they show you the same four commercials during every break, ’cause apparently there is an eighth circle of Commercial Hell. Yet the first clip they show takes you by surprise. It’s a flashy mod utopia, and the camera zooms in on Basic Commercial White Guy (this is cable, I have to be at least somewhat realistic here). He’s stumbling along a clean color-blocked street after his car breaks down, and sees a figure darting away in an alley. Basic White Guy runs after it, into the alley, stumbles into a field beyond his town that he’s never seen before. He muddies his black-and-white-striped shirt while chasing the person.

Stay with me here. Stranger Guy goes, “There’s more out there. Come with me.” Basic Guy shakes his head, backs away. Stranger Guy holds out a Tide To-Go pen. Basic Guy takes it as Stranger runs off, and Basic cleans the stains off his shirt. He’s never had to clean his own clothes before, but now a look of discovery shines on his face as he realizes his new power. He bends down, rubs dirt between his gloves, and washes it away with the stain pen.

It’s a stretch, I know (I had to come up with a narrative on the spot, could you tell?). But can you picture it, when you have to see it again? You don’t get as tired, seeing this commercial over and over again, because you can see something new each time. Details that bring it to life. A commercial that stands up to scrutiny. One that holds your heart. One that creates a promise, a visceral mythology tied to Tide that you think of whenever you’re shopping in the store.

I’m not trying to make it even easier for bigwigs to siphon money from our pockets (am I?), but if they’re going to do it, by George, do it well. There’s so much promise here that’s going unnoticed. A higher class of commercial would benefit everyone: the shows they’re funding, the companies that make them, the people that watch them. Little kids pay attention to commercials because they don’t know they’re being sold to yet; they sit, enraptured, innocent. We start to shrug this off when we wise up, and see that the mini movies are really all shams. We can’t bring that innocence back, but maybe we can return to the fascination, the rapture that made even a thirty-second spot about a Genital Herpes medication exciting.

Come on, execs. I’m waiting.

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Girls put images of her on social media, alongside quotes that she did not say. She’s the picture of perfection for so many people. A face and hourglass shape that people pine for. When the fashion industry tells women to “dress for your body shape,” this is what they’re dressing for. An illusion of the hourglass body that made her famous. Her face is the glamour many of us chase after.

An idea electrified me when The Misfits was on TV today. I googled “Marilyn Monroe without makeup” and dove into a new world of biography behind the American ideal. It’s nothing new, of course, and nothing secret. But it is secretive, given that Monroe was and is seen as the image of what a woman should be.

She achieved godlike status in the popular imagination, and she has maintained that even after her death. Her story has all the elements of beauty and tragedy that people lap up, and it seems like most don’t decide to look deeper. She was also the woman who bathed and washed constantly. The one who worked one to three hours to put on the face people expected, and considered herself to be plain. As Allan “Whitey” Snyder, the man who did Norma Jeane’s makeup throughout her career, puts it:

She looked fantastic, of course, but it was all an illusion: in person, out of makeup, she was pretty but in a plain way, and she knew it.

She  worked to keep up the image, but it’s fascinating to see how much longevity that image has had. Pictures of her without makeup are only a Google search away, but people are still surprised when they see them. As a child I wondered how someone could be so effortlessly beautiful, so fantastical, and so legendary. She herself commented on this illusion, on the topic of her famous hours-long soaks in perfumed baths:

Sometimes I know the truth of what I’m doing. It isn’t Marilyn Monroe in the tub but Norma Jeane…..And it seems that Norma can’t get enough of fresh bath water that smells of real perfume.

All this reality and more is so easy to access; I’m inclined to think that people choose not to seek it out to maintain that fantasy. It’s a gorgeous one, a dream, but the story behind it is so much richer.

The Goosbumps trailer was released today, and my first thoughts were: What book is it? Will it be Slappy? Please be Slappy. I hate Slappy. I love Slappy. Slappy. But when I got past that flood of nostalgia, I started actually watching the trailer, and it hit me.

You’re seeing that, right? They’re adapting the entire series at once. No need for excessive comparisons to the Goosebump TV series, no need to pick just one baddie … bring back them all! While this does seem to veer into slapstick territory rather than the chills and thrills of the novels, I’ll take it because it looks like so much fun. My Halloween soul is ready.